What Does the Evidence Tell us About How to Encourage the Public to Decarbonise Their Homes?

What Does the Evidence Tell us About How to Encourage the Public to Decarbonise Their Homes?

Carol Vigurs

In order for countries to reach Net Zero by 2035, people will need to change their habits and behaviours – particularly when it comes to decarbonising their homes. 

Much like societies have made important public health interventions, to reduce levels of smoking and encourage people to exercise more regularly, to improve health outcomes, Net Zero targets will need policy programmes to encourage people to act differently.

To understand how such policies lead to action, we need to first understand the ways in which contexts vary. 

Policies and programmes are implemented into pre-existing social contexts which in turn can be influential on the final outcomes. Unpacking these relationships helps to understand how we get to the intended outcomes, what helps to make it happen, and what can get in the way.   

In complex social interventions, different actors are embedded in multiple social systems. These different contexts can be structural such as the current state of the economy, or institutional; they can be relational, such as between different actors, in the form of contracts and obligations; it can be in the cultural and political contexts, such as in social norms, beliefs, values and arguments; and individual agency – that is the power to act and to choose and the boundaries and limits to actions.

From the clinic to policy – the systematic reviews for policy making are used in increasingly diverse fields, from criminal justice to engineering, from asking questions of medical effectiveness in carefully controlled clinical environments, to understanding the wonderfully messy and complicated social worlds. 

Systematic reviews that give us the best available evidence to inform our future policies and programmes need to think about not just what works, but what works, how it works, for whom and under what circumstances. 

The team at the EPPI-Centre conducted a realist review aiming to capture this complexity, and give a way to logically think-through how an intervention might work. It’s an approach that has been helpful, where interventions are complex, and outcomes highly dependent on context and success depends on the actions and decisions taken by people when implementing policies and programmes.

A realist review aims to give a detailed and rich account of the theory and the best available evidence of practice for how a complex intervention should work under different conditions, with different stakeholders. 

COM-B model of behaviour change 

Our team used a framework to understand what conditions are needed for people to make changes to their behaviour. 

We used the COM-B model of behavioural change and research evidence to find out what needs for policies of decarbonisation of homes to work. (see figure 3.)

At the centre of the behaviour change wheel is the behaviour change of the individual – the B of the model. 

The COM-B model proposes that there are three components to any behaviour change:  

  • Capability (C),  
  • Opportunity (O) 
  • Motivation (M).  

To perform a particular behaviour, a person must want or need to carry out the behaviour more than other competing behaviours (M), feel they are both psychologically and physically able to do so (C), and have the social and physical opportunity for the behaviour (O). As each of these components interact, interventions must target one or more of these to deliver and maintain effective behaviour change. 

The first step in our review will be to identify these drivers, or sources of behaviour change, bringing together the findings from reviews of other high value, high commitment “green” purchases, to see what we can learn about the mechanisms driving behaviour change.

That is – what needs to work for policies and programmes to work? What drivers are most important to people? What do they say they need to make that change?

We will bring together the findings from studies of the views and experience of people who have made that change and compare their experiences and drivers to behaviour change to the UK’s major trial of heat pumps case studies. 

Finally, we will consider the ways in which government interventions might work, and some potential threats to policy implementation based on current policies, programmes and incentives in the UK and the regions.